The Ideal and the Practical — the Practice

I’d written a response to @AnAn and included a quote from the Chuang Tzu’s chapter on Lord Wen-hui and what he learned from his Cook Ting, and wanted to throw in the following DoubleQuote — but graphics seem to be discouraged in the Comment sections here, so I’ve opened this post for the purpose:

The thing is, Lao Tzu offers us the ideal statement, formulated in terms of an impenetrable absence of space, and an absence of substance to the point of non-existence — while Chuang Tzu, peering over Lord Wen-hui’s shoulder right there in Cook Ting’s kitchen, offers us the same insight, couched in terms of there being “spaces between the joints” and his knife having “really no thickness” — Chuang Tzu’s measureless insight penetrates Lao Tzu’s impenetrable absolutes to show us there’s room for play there — “room — more than enough for the blade to play about in”.

If we bear these two versions of the same idea — formulated ideally and in practical terms by the two principle philosopher-poets of the Taoist school — in mind when our thoughts run up against the impracticality of an ideal, we may find, like Cook Ting, that we too have room enough room to play in.


I’m fond of saying “two is the first number”

I was senior analyst in a small and wonderfully eccentric DC Beltway think tank a while back, and my boss kept asking me for what he called “early indicators” of upcoming troubles. The trouble was, I never saw an “indicator” as such — I only ever saw “indicators” plural. It takes two to tango, they say, and from my POV it takes two to make a pattern.

My HipBone Games began as an attempt to make Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game playable, preferably on a paper napkin in a sidewalk cafe, so I began with boards like my WaterBird —

— with ten moves, ten concepts arrayed in such a way that players or later readers could see ten richly interconnected concepts in one place — concepts that might be textual, musical, mathematical, visual, filmic — if we’d known how to convey smells via the internet, I’d have included those, too..

And over time, I discovered the obvious — that the fundamental game move involved two concepts, with one bridging link between them. So that’s the fundamental way to learn to play the HipBone Games. Over time, I’ve come to rely more and more on this simplest of HipBone Games, the DoubleQuote:

— leaving the larger HipBone Gameboards — the 8-move Dart board on up to the 120-odd Said Symphony board, dedicated to, you may have guessed it, Edward Said, and available for possible competition games and solo symphonies.


What’s a concept, you might ask — what constitutes a move?

I might use a different definition if I were taking about anything other than the Bead Game, but in this context, a concept is a rich idea — an idea with rich possibilities for association. Let me take a paragraph from a New Yorker piece as an example:

Melissa and Ashley, identical twins from Georgia, shared a bedroom while growing up. They had the same best friend, took classes together in high school, and dreamed of becoming artists in their own collective. “We’re like two different people with one brain,” Melissa liked to say.

The article in question is titled An Underground College for Undocumented Immigrants — so there’s room associations with the underground railroad perhaps, another situation where the official system repressed a minority, and that minority found ways to circumvent the system.

I’ve chosen this example, in fact, because it offers numerous associative possibilities — to other ideas, narratives, or statistical finds about twins, to other New Yorker articles, to underground movie theaters or catacombs, to those who dream of becoming artists — and in particular for my purposes here, because it’s about two people who think, almost as if they are one.

In fact, to emphasis this notion of unity and harmony, I might simply chose this statement for the first position in my DoubleQuote::

We’re like two different people with one brain


Let’s use a musical analogy, and say the two of them think in close harmony, or, since there are two of them, that thinking together, they constitute a duet..

The opposite of harmony,in which many notes played simultaneously form a chord, is counterpoint, in which differing melodic lines move between discord and resolution — harmony a “vertical” matter, synchronic, while counterpoint is “horizontal” and diachronic —

— and the opposite of a duet is a duel.


The two friends in Don DeLillo’s New Yorker piece, Midnight in Dostoevsky like to keep their minds at opposite poles from each other. As one of the two reports:

He liked to test himself on what he knew. He liked to stop walking to emphasize a point as I walked on. This was my counterpoint, to let him stand there talking to a tree. The shallower our arguments, the more intense we became.

I wanted to keep this one going, to stay in control, to press him hard. Did it matter what I said?

The actual phrase I’d place in juxtaposition to the first paragraph above might come from a discussion of whether the old man walking in front of them that day was wearing an anorak or a parka —

It was our routine; we were ever ready to find a matter to contest.

Again, the context — the article itself — is rich in associative potentials, with parkas, anoraks, Inuits, linguistics, life in the arctic circle, the whole idea of North — on which the pianist Glenn Gould wrote an entire radio opera

— and note that Gould is himself a master of counterpoint, specializing in the work of JS Bach, and called his radio opera technique “contrapuntal radio” —


“This was counterpoint” — the opposite of harmony, and full of both conflict and resolution, with phrases isolated and overlapping, paused and repeated, denial and occasional agreement and renewed denial — a duel, not by any means a duet.

And yet each of our two excerpts describes the conversations of two close friends, the one emphasizing unity, the other diversity. And it is in the similarities and differences between the two conversation — between duel and duet — that the two concepts link to become a single move.


Having given that extended example, let me present a few more DoubleQuotes, in their positions on the board — with minimal explanations:

Some of them are made of names or phrases so simple, they fit on a mini-version of the board:

Some bring Shakespeare to bear on current events — in this case, Saudi Crown Prince MBS and the Khashoggi murder:

Some showing similarities in different materials:

Some making historical comparisons — this one’s in an earlier version of the same board —

or opposite opinions and creative practices of two of the world’s most distinguished physicists:

or — and this is my personal favorite, crossing as it does the great disciplinary boundary — between CP Snow’s Two Cultures — between art and science:


But either I’ve been very unclear, or you get the idea.

Here’s the blank DoubleQuotes board again, for you to download and drop your own examples into.

At gmail I’m hipbonegamer — feel free to send me your own, with any explanation you feel like making, and in a later post I’ll put them up here.


By request — the ouroboros game

Callum Flack saw my recent post here and wanted to see examples of the Ouroboros board in use — so this post is for him, and Ali Minai too if self-reference interests him — I’m guessing it does, unless computer science has moved so far ahead since Hofstadter wrote Godel Escher Bach that it no longer applies..


How to explain the ouroboros? It’s the ancient and ubiquitous symbol, found earliest, perhaps, in Pharaonic Egypt, of a serpent biting its own tail:

More recently, it’s a popular image in alchemy

Self bites itself. And that’s a pattern worth watching.


Wikipedia tells us, quoting a Harvard study by Michael Witzel:

in the Aitareya Brahmana, a Vedic text of the early 1st millennium BCE, the nature of the Vedic rituals is compared to “a snake biting its own tail.”

Then there’s this example from a medieval Indian scripture, the Yoga-Kundalini Upanishad:

The divine power, Kundalini, shines like the stem of a young lotus; like a snake, coiled round upon herself she holds her tail in her mouth and lies resting half asleep as the base of the body

That’s ouroboros.

There’s a marvelous moment in the film Silence of the Lambs when the young FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, asks the psychiatrist and serial killed Hannibal Lecter:

You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don’t you – why don’t you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you’re afraid to.

That’s ouroboros.

The paradox of Epimenideas, the Cretan philosopher who declared “all Cretans are always liars” which St Paul mentions in his Epistle to Titus, is ouroboric.

Artists, too, can take an interest in such things as hands that are drawing hands drawing hands — a double ouroboros (MC Escher)..

or pipes that are not pipes (Magritte):


Anyway, here for any who are interested, are some instances of the one-move self-referential Ouroboros board in use:

I think you’ll see why this New Yorker title jumped out of the page at me:

Writers like ’em!

I really liked these two examples, carried by political activists — the first on a back-pack:

and the second on a placard — totally surreal, bearing no relation to the political event which was being protested:

That, too, is an ouroboros.

Nancy Pelosi used a weird ouroboros the other day, saying:

The logo of 8chan, home of the image-board where the extremists of the alt-right meet and plot away from prying eyes is another double ouroboros:

Here’s one from Hofstadter’s book, Godel Escher Bach:

And finally, here are five instances collected by the writer William Safire:


I hope you like these, and find your own — here, again, is the empty Ouroboros game board in case you wish to drop your own examples into it!



Moves in the Glass Bead Game

I came across two images recently which seemed closely parallel, and yet distinctly different.

When I saw this image:

it immediately reminded me of this one, which I’d seen a few hours earlier:

That’s the first clue as to how to play the Glass Bead Game: it’s as simple as this reminded me of that.


The two images are very different, yet very similar.

Each is an image with a strong Catholic resonance — one image is of a statue of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, the other is an image of a chalice, the cup which Jesus passed to his followers on the night before his crucifixion, and which Christians to this day drink in their various communion services, remembering him.

And both images are very visibly shattered — the shattered statue representing the devastating impact of jihadist suicide-bomber attacks on churches across Sri Lanka, the shattered chalice representing the Catholic Church, “broken” by priestly sexual abuses, and in urgent need of reformation.

In playing Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, at least in the variants that I have devised and which I call the HipBone family of games, the move from one of those images to the other is a move. And the nature of the move is their resemblance across a cognitive distance.


Hesse’s book was written in 1943, a time when elite thinkers — and Hesse was certainly elite — were more comfortable than we are today with sheer erudition — and he gives as an example of a move in the game, a player who had been studying —

…the rhythmic structure of Julius Caesar’s Latin and discovered the most striking congruences with the results of well-known studies of the intervals in Byzantine hymns…

— and here’s another move for you, one of my own. Little did Hesse know it, but I myself was studying up on Church music one day, and dis=covered a book by a nun, Jane-Marie Luecke OSB, entitled:

Measuring Old English Rhythm: an Application of the Principles of Gregorian Chant Rhythm to the Meter of Beowulf

Not only is Sister Jane-Marie’s book itself a monograph length move, buy my association of Hesse’s move in his book and the good Sister’s monograph — one reminded me of the other — is also a move, and a most fortuitous one, starting in the pages of the book I devoted ten or more years of my life to, and ending in a discovery in an area of my own scholarly interest — and now, in my proud ownership of Sister Jane-Marie’s slim blue volume.


Remember, mnthe scope of the game allows moves to be made from the whole range of human intellectual production:

The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

If you can think it, imagine it, jot it down, sketch it, hum it, or represent it as an equation, you can make a move of it, linking it to some other move already in play, or proposing it for others to link to.


Music is notated in a score, and in the music of ideas which Hesse’s game proposes and my HipBone Games attempt to make playable, my suggestion is to notate such moves as simple graphs — in the form of two named nodes with an edge connecting them.

Here’s a board I’ve devised to allow you to notate a move with two concepts and a linkage between them. I call it my DoubleQuotes Board, and it represents the smallest board on which a HipBone Game can be played — either solo or with a friend:

You can then assign your move to to a node in your game, and link it to another in a way that is rich in content at both ends, and which features rich connections between them, across some conceptual distance — perhaps across distinctly separate disciplines.

Here’s a DoubleQuote between Theodor von Kármán’s Vortex Street, and Van Gogh’s painting of the night sky:

From the dynamics of flow nto post-impressionist modern art — that’s quite a leap! And yet the two are so close, they might as well be twins!


So — the challenge:

What memory-leap — what associative leap, what creative leap can you come up with that most neatly and beautifully links two conceptually distant but richly associated concepts? If you feel like it, you can identify them in the Comments section, or email me at my gmail address — my handle there is hipbonegamer.
You’ll be playing one of my playable variants of Hermann Hesse’s Nobel-winning Glass Bead Game. And if you have the skill-set to drop your move onto my DoubleQuote board and post it, so much the better.

Here’s that game board again:


Oh, and for Ali Minai in particular, given that self-referential paradox must be an issue in AGI — here’s a board for the self-referential one-move game, with one of my poems in it:

Wanna try?


Enough — until next time..


Brownpundits- Episode 8. The Glass Bead Game (and the decline of Western Civ)

The latest BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

This week Omar talks to poet Charles Cameron (who also runs the Zenpundit security blog and is something of a vagabond monk) and Professor Ali Minai (a professor of Electrical engineering who focuses on complex systems and artificial intelligence, but who is also a published Urdu poet, a numismatist and an all round rennaissance man)about the Glass Bead Game, poetry, Artifical intelligence and the (possible) decline of Western civilization. (My apologies for some syncing issues in the last quarter of the podcast, where my questions start before Ali or Charles have finished speaking)

Professor Minai
Charles Cameron

PS: Razib Khan does all the editing and other electronic scut work on this site. Kindly chip in with whatever you can donate to his Patreon account and we can get some professional help for the editing and posting. Thanks